9th Sunday After Pentecost — August 2, 2020
Genesis 32:22-31; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21
Ordinary 18A; Proper 13
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Ordinary 10A; Proper 14
Let’s start at the end of this Gospel story.
I need to start with the end of the story this week. I need to know with certainty that Jesus truly is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Savior of the world, the one who not only feeds the hungry crowds but controls the winds and waves. I need to know that after the death and burial of John the Baptist and the distribution of baskets of bread and the near-death experience on the sea, we will be together and we will worship God.Let’s go to the culmination of all this coming and going, leaving and returning, storms, prayer, water-walking and cries for help. Let’s remember that the point of the story is the disciples’ newfound understanding of who Jesus is and their confession of faith. We should recap that immediately before this account of the storm and Jesus’ walking on water and Peter’s brief venture out of the boat came the feeding of the 5,000 and before that the murder of John the Baptist. The disciples, and Jesus, must be worn out, wrung out, exhausted. Is it any wonder that Jesus goes up the mountain to pray and be alone? Can we blame the disciples for thinking they are seeing a ghost? And yet, in the end, comes this incredible declaration: Truly you are the Son of God. In the end, after grief and service, fear and confusion, storms and disorientation, comes worship.
Deep into this strange calendar year when the forces of creation threaten to overtake us, I need to be reminded that while Jesus may send us out on the ocean without him for a time, he will not abandon us and is surely coming to us as we attempt to navigate the strong winds that work against us. We may well struggle to perceive him through our anxiety and weariness, but he will tell his battered followers over and over again, “Take heart, it is I, do not be afraid.”
We, like Peter, may test his claim, ask for proof and scramble briefly out of the boat only to look around and begin to flail. But Jesus meets us in our failures and faltering faith, too. Remember the end of the story? Jesus reached out his hand to Peter and when they got into the boat the wind ceased and those in the boat worshipped him and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In the end comes utter clarity about who Jesus is, what he has the power to do and how we are to respond. In the end is a declaration of faith — an unequivocal declaration of faith. In the end is worship. After the death and the feeding, the times in the pit and the guilt for how we treated our sibling, after the tumult on the sea and the estrangement in our family, after the briefest brave moments of faith and the months of enduring doubts, after the plagues and the pandemics, the hurricanes and the devastation, we will worship together. We will confess and repent and be forgiven and made new. We will pass the peace and we will sing. We will share our joys and our pain. We will pray and there will be preaching. We will bless and break the bread and, Lord please, we will baptize a new member of the household of God and affirm our faith together.
In the end, at the end, we will declare that Jesus truly is the Son of God and we will worship with our wounds and our worries, our losses and our dreams. And together with Jesus in the middle of us, we will rejoice that nothing we endured managed to take us away from the God who loves us and will not leave us alone.
Now in the middle of the storm, when we are not sure if it is Jesus coming toward us or not, when we want to leave the boat and go to him, when we notice the strong wind and start to sink in the mire of so much upheaval, do not forget the end of the story. Envision the worship that is to come. Yes, keep in mind our socially distant services and our masked faces, and give thanks for those amended services where they are possible, but also see in your mind’s eye the heavenly worship happening right now. See every tribe and nation singing alleluia around the lamb on the throne. Picture those who have been through the ordeal, clothed in Christ and consumed with the unmitigated joy of seeing our risen Lord face to face. Hear the heavenly choir of angels and remember in the end the winds cease, Jesus stands before us, we know who he is without a doubt and the whole dysfunctional, flawed and forgiven family of God worships.
Sonja Livingston writes in her book, “The Virgin of Prince Street: Expeditions into Devotion,” about the power of the church. She writes, “Just a building, true. But think of all it’s held. … All that’s said and heard and washed away. All that remains locked inside the body’s tender vault. … If everyone whoever set foot in this church sang a psalm at the same time, our hearts would become birds and fly straight into each other’s hands.” In the end, we worship. After Jesus stills the storm, still soggy from our near drowning, we will confess Jesus is Lord and we will worship. While we may still be in the middle of the sea, the shore out of sight and the waves still swamping our boat, even now wherever we are, no matter how afraid, we can sing a psalm and know the storm will not last forever and Jesus is near.
- Where are you in this story? Who are you in this story? Imagine the scene and place yourself in it. What message do you hear from God?
- When have you felt overwhelmed by life’s storms? How did you get through it? How do you find calm even in the middle of the storm?
- When have you declared with certainty that Jesus is the Son of God? What difference did that confession of faith make in how you lived your life? How did it help you understand all that was happening around you?
- Can you think of an occasion of worship that was especially meaningful? What made it so? What do you most miss about corporate worship? How has virtual worship been meaningful for you?
- Does it help you to remember the end of this story? The end of the entire salvation narrative? How does knowing the outcome give you strength in the moment?
- Do you admire Peter for getting out of the boat or do you lament his doubt once he is on the water? Both? When have you gotten out of the boat, metaphorically speaking? What happened as a result?